KOLKATA, India—The Missionaries of Charity nuns celebrated the 109th birthday of their founder, Mother Teresa, on Aug. 26, recalling her fidelity to Christ, of which was born her love and service for the poorest of the world.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata celebrated Mass at the tomb of Mother Teresa at the motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity, in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, on the occasion of the saint’s 109th birthday.
“Jesus invites us to love one another. The Mother served the poorest of the poor with selfless service and passionate love, giving them to Jesus through her work,” the archbishop said in his homily.
Later, he lit a candle on the decorated tomb and those present sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to their founder, known simply as Mother Teresa.
Sister Mary Prema, the Superior General of the congregation, said: “Mother always repeated that we are called to be faithful, not to be successful”.
The saint’s birthday was a major celebration in the house when she was alive, and the nuns continue to celebrate it even after her death in 1997 and canonization in 2016.
Senior nuns told UCANEWS that the tradition of celebrating Mother Teresa’s birthday continues to be observed in the order’s 700 homes in 136 countries, even after her death. Today, the Missionaries of Charity worldwide number some 4,500 members.
For Father Dominic Gomes, the vicar general of the archdiocese, who concelebrated the Mass with his archbishop, it was a splendid celebration.
“The 109th anniversary of the birth of our beloved St. Mother Teresa was a moment of thanksgiving through prayer and joy,” he told AsiaNews, noting that the chapel was packed with people of all social classes.
In the Catholic liturgical calendar, a saint’s feast day is marked normally on the day of death, the day he or she attained heavenly life. The sisters said they will begin a novena — or nine-day prayer — from Aug. 27 in preparation for Mother Teresa’s feast day celebration on Sept. 5.
“Our birthday celebrations could be seen as preparation for the feast day,” one sister said.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents on Aug. 26, 1910, in Skopje, in what is North Macedonia today. The 19-year old teenager arrived in eastern India’s Kolkata city in 1929 with the Sisters of Loreto from Ireland. After her novitiate, she became a member of the congregation. Later in 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity to care for poor and abandoned people.
She died 22 years ago on Sept. 5, 1997, at the motherhouse, at the age of 87.
She was declared a saint by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016, and her liturgical feast is celebrated on September 5, the day she died.
“Our dearest Mother, give us a part of your faithfulness to God and to the poorest of the poor,” said Sister Prema in a prayer, sharing her thoughts in a message on the occasion of Mother Teresa’s 109th birthday.
“God did not call me to be successful. He called me to be faithful,” Sister Prema said, recalling Mother Teresa’s conviction. “She was not concerned about success, wealth, fame and power. She knew that God had called her and that God is always faithful.”
In her faithfulness, she relied on God’s providence for everything she needed, never closing her heart to anyone, especially those who wounded her, Sister Prema continued. Her fidelity made her the “defender of the right to life of for the unborn, the abandoned and disabled children” and the “Mother of the unwanted”. Because of her faithfulness, she was blessed with extraordinary fruitfulness and became “an icon of God’s tender and caring love”.
Sister Prema recalled that Mother Teresa was faithful in dedicating herself to the most humble service, so much so that in 1985 the then-U.N. secretary-general Perez de Cuellar called her “the most powerful woman in the world”.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2012 instituting an International Day of Charity on Sept. 5, Mother Teresa’s feast day, in recognition of the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, including those of Mother Teresa.
By Robin Gomes/Vatican News